January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They can cause serious problems in your baby’s overall health, how his body develops and how his body works. Birth Defects Prevention Month is a time to spread the word that there are things you can do to help prevent birth defects in your baby.

In the United States, about 1 in 33 babies (about 3 percent) is born with a birth defect each year. Common birth defects include congenital heart defects, cleft lip and left palate and spina bifida.

You can’t always prevent birth defects in your baby. But if you’re pregnant or thinking about having a baby, here’s what you can do to help reduce the risk of birth defects and improve your chances of having a healthy baby:

  • Take folic acid before and during early pregnancy. This can help prevent birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs) in your baby. Folic acid is a B vitamin that every cell in your body needs for normal growth and development. Before pregnancy, take a multivitamin that has 400 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. During pregnancy, take a prenatal vitamin that has 600 micrograms of folic acid in it every day. Take a multivitamin with folic acid every day, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant.
  • Get a preconception checkup. This is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy to help make sure you’re healthy when you get pregnant. A preconception checkup is especially important if you’ve already had a baby with a birth defect. Your health care provider can make sure you’re healthy, check that your vaccinations are up to date and make sure any medicines that you take are safe to keep taking during pregnancy. Being exposed to certain medicines or infections in the womb can sometimes cause birth defects in a baby.
  • Don't drink alcohol during pregnancy. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy makes your baby more likely to have premature birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy), birth defects and a group of conditions called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (also called FASDs).  Alcohol can cause problems for your baby at any time in pregnancy, even before you know you’re pregnant.
  • Protect yourself from common infections. Wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom, sneezing or coughing, changing a diaper or preparing food. Don’t eat raw or undercooked food, including lunch meats. Cook meat, chicken and fish until done. Wash food before you cook or eat it. Don’t touch cat poop or change a cat’s litter box to protect you from toxoplasmosis.
  • Don’t travel to a Zika-affected area, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other problems. If you do travel to a Zika-affected areas, protect yourself from mosquito bites. If your male or female sex partner may be infected with Zika, don’t have sex. If you do have sex, use a condom. If you work in a health care setting, follow safety rules to protect yourself from exposure to Zika.

Learn more tips from this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention infographic.